The Leopard Pride Achievement Center is busy working with students in an Alternative Education Program setting to help them graduate from high school. The program was started by Gainesville Independent School District at the old junior high school.

Still in it’s first year, approximately 23 students attend and are working toward graduation.

“We’ve had three graduates at this point,” said Leopard Achievement Pride Center Principal Vance Wells. “If things progress the way I think they will, we should have another two to three graduates by the summertime.”

While the focus is on youth that are high school age, the program is for people of all ages.

Gainesville Independent School District (GISD) Bill Gravitt said the program is for people behind in their education and want to graduate from high school.

“We’ve created some options,” Gravitt said. “Why keep doing the same thing over and over again if a kid can’t be successful.”

Gravitt said there are a multitude of reasons why youth are not successful at their home campus. Some kids are better off one-on-one or in a small setting verses a large setting, so it’s important for the district to create an alternative way for them to get their education, but still be within the guidelines of the Texas Education Agency.

“These six kids that are going to graduate from there probably this year probably never would have not gone back to school had it not been for that program,” he continued.

He said that alternative programs are pretty much throughout the state now.

“They have grown quite a bit because every school has their problems as far as dropouts are concerned,” Gravitt continued.

“So, it doesn’t make any difference how young or old the person is. We had a 73 year old lady in the program at one time. If they’re 30 or they’re 20 and they haven’t received their high school education and they want to do that, then we’ll try to work a program with them.”

Gravitt said that some students cannot meet the regular high school schedule because they have a job, they may have to go in the mornings or they may work in the afternoons. At the Leopard Pride Acheivement Center they work at their own pace. and there are teachers there to help them.

“It’s a computer-based curriculum but it follows very much what we’ve got in our school system and those people that want to can go in there and do the work,” Gravitt said. “They may be able to complete a course in six weeks. Or, it may take some of them a full semester. As soon as they complete it they get credit for it and move on. And so it’s conceivable that people could receive their high school diploma and were a freshman when they dropped out and within two years they could graduate from Gainesville High School. This is the significance of that, we’re going back and picking up some of those people that have fallen through the cracks.

“We’ve had seniors drop out, we’ve had juniors drop out and the way things are today, it hurts us,” Gravitt continued. “You know, you read things like one-third of the students in the state of Texas drop out of high school. Well, Okay, let’s quit writing stories about it and let’s do something about it. Well, schools are doing something about it.”

Wells said that most school districts the size of GISD or bigger have some type of alternative program with flexible hours and a way of meeting the needs of students, some of which have taken on adult responsibilities already.

“A lot of them have jobs to support themselves, families of their own, and we’re meeting their needs to get them a high school diploma,” Wells continued. “A lot of them coming back realize that a high school diploma is necessary. They come back after whatever situation kept them from continuing their high school and realize, ‘I’m not getting far without a high school diploma. I need it.’”

Gravitt said there have been programs like this in the state for about 20 years.

“They’ve been a success everywhere they’ve put them,” he added.

He said there is a process to get in the school program.,” Gravitt said. The individual will meet with a committee and discuss the needs, background and situation. Then the decision is made by the committee.

“It’s excellent,” Gravitt said of the program. “It’s amazing to see when a kid finally graduates from high school, the look on their face when they do. It’s amazing.”

“Once they start working in a program like this it seems like they’ve found their niche,” said Wells. “It’s very rewarding.”

Gravitt said that once teachers get over to the center and start working in the program, and they see the reward and the look on the graduates face and see what it has done for that individual, then those teachers won’t leave there.

“That’s what they want to do because that’s where the reward is,” Gravitt added. “The biggest reward. The kids also let you know how much they appreciate what you’ve done.”

For more information call GISD at (940) 665-4362.

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